Info & Advice

Can a parent stop a child from seeing their grandparents?

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Divorce and separation can have a far-reaching impact, affecting not only a child’s parents but also close relationships too, including grandparents. Sadly, as a result of matrimonial breakdown, some grandparents are denied access to their grandchildren, and this is exacerbated by there being no automatic legal right to be in their grandchildren’s lives. But can a parent actively stop a child from seeing their grandparents? This article looks at the details.

No automatic grandparent rights

Because there is no automatic legal right for a grandparent to see their grandchildren, parents can stop a child from seeing their grandparents if there is no court order allowing for such contact to take place. This doesn’t mean that grandparents don’t have options. If the case goes to court and an order has been made allowing for contact, then a parent cannot restrict it. Doing so would amount to breaching a court order for which there is a raft of sanctions.

The benefits of mediation

Resolving disputes over the grandchildren is usually the best solution, and certainly the most cost effective method. If you cannot get anywhere in direct discussion with the child’s parent, or find it difficult to raise the subject at all, a professional mediator may lead you toward a resolution. Mediation can create a more positive experience for all parties by focussing on the child concerned rather than the party’s own personal feelings surrounding the separation or divorce.

In any event, before an application can be made to the court, the applicant must attend a Mediation Information and Assessment meeting (MIAM). The applicant’s attendance at this meeting is compulsory, although there are exemptions available, such as if the child is at risk of significant harm.

If mediation is not possible or has otherwise failed, it might still be possible to reach an agreement directly with further discussions helped by solicitors. Here, if the terms are confirmed in writing, it may not be necessary to formalise the arrangements any further. If none of these options are successful, then unfortunately, a more formal method will be necessary through the family court.

Going to court as a grandparent

As a grandparent, there is an additional step in the process where you first have to apply for permission from the court to make the application for a child arrangements order. The court will consider this application for permission carefully and look at several factors when deciding whether to grant the initial application:

  • The grandparent’s connection with the child – if grandparents have previously played a significant role in a child’s life or have had a strong pre-existing relationship, such a bond is taken into account when evaluating the potential benefits and harms of re-establishing or maintaining contact
  • The nature of the application for contact
  • Whether the application might potentially harm the child’s welfare in any way

If either or both of the child’s parents make any objections, you are likely to have to attend a full hearing. This will allow all parties to make representations as to whether the application should proceed. For example, the judge may have to weigh up whether continuing contact with the child could have a negative effect on the rest of the family and therefore be detrimental to the child. When making a decision, the court will always consider all the circumstances of the case and must only make an order if they believe it is better for the child than making no order at all. That said, it is only in extreme circumstances that a court will refuse grandparents access to their grandchildren.

If the application is successful, then you can apply for a child arrangements order through the family court in the usual way.

The step-by-step legal process is as follows:

  • Mediation
  • Seeking permission
  • Substantive application – once permission is granted, grandparents can formally apply for a child arrangements order
  • First hearing – following the application, the court schedules a first hearing. During this, the judge is likely to discuss the case with both parties to see if an agreement can be reached and make directions for the future conduct of the case
  • Fact-finding hearing – if any allegations of harm or abuse are made, the court will hold a fact-finding hearing to determine the truthfulness of the claims
  • Further hearings – if you haven’t managed to reach an agreement by this stage, the court will list the matter for further hearings. The judge may have previously ordered input from social workers and/or CAFCASS, who will produce reports that make recommendations to the court. If the matter continues, it will proceed to a final hearing, where the judge hears evidence from all involved parties who will have been given the opportunity of setting out their case in witness statements.
  • Decision – fundamentally, this will be based on what is in the child’s best interests. If the judge believes that contact with the grandparents is beneficial to the child, they will grant a child arrangements order setting out the terms of contact going forward.

What happens if the parents do not accept the court order?

There are instances when parents might decide to ignore or defy the court order. But before taking legal action, it is sensible to maintain detailed records of every instance of parents breaching the order. You should include dates, times, and a brief description of the circumstances. These records can be used as evidence if the matter has to return to court.

Before escalating matters legally, you might reconsider using mediation. As stated above, it offers a neutral platform for both parties to express their concerns and hopefully find a resolution.

If parents persistently fail to stick to the order, grandparents can apply for it to be enforced. This will compel them to abide by the terms of the original order. In extreme cases, it can also result in penalties, including community service or imprisonment.

If the current circumstances have changed since the order was made, the court may decide to vary its original terms, whilst always ensuring the child’s best interests are being met.

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